Summer Chronicles #8: Moments of Grace

by on August 12, 2019 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun

By Jim Miller

We need to escape the prison of measured time.

Time as we know it is a social construct, a product of historical and economic forces which, in turn, serves to reify them so that we confuse them with nature.

Our particularly American sense of time is not just the product of centuries of the western progress narrative, but also of our unique mutation of the Protestant work ethic, born of Calvinism, secularized by Benjamin Franklin, and perversely systematized by Fredric Winslow Taylor, whose project to create a more efficient workplace in the early 20th century through time and motion studies fostered a gospel of time-management and efficiency that devalued everything that makes life worth living in the service of efficient production.

This gospel of efficiency, or “Taylorism” as scholars call it, lived on long past the peak of the industrial revolution, when Charlie Chaplin satirized the Taylorized factory with its robot-like workers in Modern Times, to penetrate not just the way we work, but also the way we live as consumers, citizens, and private individuals. The idea that our lives and all the institutions we function in from the home, to the school, to the workplace, to the leisure factories where we have “fun” need to be “efficient” above all is so pervasive that we don’t even think about it.

The corporate dictator in all of our pockets, the cellphone, is a perfect manifestation of how we have voluntarily hooked ourselves up to an interconnected capitalist network whose central aim is to addict us to distraction, sell us things, and, in the process, change the way we think and feel as human beings.

If we were in the modernist period, perhaps I would speak of being alienated, but the truth is that we are beyond alienation. To be alienated, one needs to feel one’s separation from things, but now we have come to take the tool that divides us from the world for the world itself, the screen which seduces us no longer reflects us but IS us.

If this sounds like a kind of soft dystopia of the Huxleyian variety, perhaps it is.

Hence, a form of resistance might be to simply unplug, even for a short period of time, as a kind of countercultural act.  In the process of doing so, I think many of us might discover the beauty of slowness that comes from an escape from the prison.  And after a while, you might come to discover that many of the very important things you have to do are absolutely meaningless, that the person you had confused with yourself doesn’t actually exist.

Beyond the initial angst, you might discover that the “real world” you get handed to you is less real than the world outside of the bubble.  And the always-running feeling with all the stress and dread that comes with it might just fall away like a ton of dead weight.  With that false skin shed, time as you know it becomes a river and the self you have constructed a raft amidst the flow of moments.

Perhaps on a simple walk you might find some grace when, as Clarice Lispecter puts it, “everything acquires a kind of halo which is not imaginary: it comes from the splendor of the almost mathematical light emanating from people and things.  One starts to feel that everything in existence—whether people or things—breathes and exhales the subtle light of energy.  The world’s truth is impalpable.”

As Lispector explains, this is not some mystical experience, “No, this is simply the state of grace of an ordinary person who suddenly becomes totally real since he is ordinary, human, and recognizable.”  This is why freeing ourselves from the cult of distraction and useless efficiency is worth a shot because, as she concludes, “Some days are so arid and empty that I would give years of my life in exchange for a few minutes of grace.”


In the summer of 1967, the great Brazilian writer, Clarice Lispector, began a seven-year stint as a writer for Jornal de Brasil (The Brazilian News) not as a reporter but as a writer of “chronicles,” a genre peculiar to Brazil.  As Giovanni Pontiero puts it in the preface to Selected Chrônicas, a chronicle, “allows poets and writers to address a wider readership on a vast range of topics and themes.  The general tone is one of greater freedom and intimacy than one finds in comparable articles or columns in the European or U.S. Press.”

What Lispector left us with is an eccentric collection of “aphorisms, diary entries, reminiscences, travel notes, interviews, serialized stories, essays, loosely defined as chronicles.”  As a novelist, Pontiero tells us, Lispector was anxious about her relationship with the genre, apprehensive of writing too much and too often, of, as she put it, “contaminating the word.”  It was a genre alien to her introspective nature and one that challenged her to adapt.

More than forty years later, in Southern California—in San Diego no less—I look to Lispector with sufficient humility and irony from my place on the far margins of literary history with three novels and a few other books largely set in our minor league corner of the universe.  Along with this weekly column, it’s not much compared to the gravitas of someone like Lispector.  So, as Allen Ginsberg once said of Whitman, “I touch your book and feel absurd.”

Nonetheless the urge to narrate persists. Along with Lispector, I am cursed with it–for better or worse. So, for a few lazy weeks of summer I will, as I have for a few years now, try my hand at the form.


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